Construction employment falls in March

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construction jobs

The Employment Situation Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that apartment operations employment rose while residential construction employment fell in the latest month.

Overall job growth continues, but more slowly

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment increased by 236,000 jobs in March, based on their survey of business establishments. This compares to employment gains of 311,000 jobs in February and 517,000 jobs in January.

The BLS household survey reported that the US unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent, down from 3.6 percent last month and 3.4 percent in January. The household survey found that the number of employed persons rose by 577,000 from that reported last month while the number of unemployed persons fell by 97,000.

The household survey found that the number of people in the civilian labor force rose by 480,000 in March while the adult population rose by 160,000. These changes caused the labor force participation rate to tick up 0.1 percentage point to 62.6 percent. It had been at 63.4 percent before the pandemic. Recovering that 0.8 percent decline in the labor force participation rate would bring 2.1 million more people into the workforce.

Mixed report for multifamily employment

The BLS reported more detailed employment information on four job categories of interest to the multifamily industry. These are employment as residential construction workers, as specialty trades within residential construction, as residential property managers and as lessors of residential buildings. As usual, some of the data is reported with a month delay, so the latest figures for the latter two categories are for the month of February.

The first chart shows the long-term history of the levels of employment in these four jobs categories.

construction employment multifamily employment apartment operations employment

Residential construction employment drops

Employment in residential building construction in March, usually with general contractors, was reported to be up 800 jobs, but only because the employment level of the month before was revised downward by 5,100 jobs. The employment level for January was also revised lower by 1,500 jobs. Employment in this category is now 934,200 jobs, up 2.3 percent year-over-year and 11.6 percent higher than its level in February 2020.

Employment in residential building trades, i.e. plumbers, electricians, etc., in March was reported to be down 7,800 jobs from February on top of a downward revision of 17,500 jobs to February’s employment level. Employment in this category is now 2,311,300 jobs, up 1.1 percent year-over-year and 8.6 percent above its level in February 2020.

Total February employment in these two categories of residential construction jobs combined was down 0.2 percent from the revised level of the month before. Residential construction employment was 9.4 percent above its level in February 2020.

Apartment operations job counts rise

Employment for residential property managers in February was reported to be up by 800 jobs (0.2 percent) from its revised (-100) level for January to 508,700 jobs. Employment for residential property managers is up 3.4 percent year-over-year and is up from its February 2020 level by 5.7 percent.

Employment for lessors of residential buildings was reported to fall in February by 300 jobs from January’s revised (+500) level to 370,000 jobs. Employment in this category is up 3.0 percent year-over-year and is now 0.6 percent above its pre-pandemic level.

Total employment in these two categories combined was reported to be up 0.1 percent from the level reported for last month. It is now 3.8 percent above its level in February 2020.

A closer look

The final chart, below, presents the employment data in a different format. It normalizes the employment levels in all four jobs categories to a reading of 100 for January 2015. It also provides trend lines for the growth in each of the categories of employment based on the period from January 2015 through February 2020.

construction employment vs trend multifamily employment vs trend

The chart shows that residential building construction is the only one of the four jobs categories that we track whose employment level is near the pre-pandemic trend. It is now 0.4 percent below trend. Residential trades employment has been falling and is now 3.0 percent below trend, residential property managers employment is 2.6 percent below trend and lessors of residential buildings employment is 3.4 percent below trend.

The numbers given in the Employment Situation report are seasonally adjusted and are subject to revision. It is common for small adjustments to be made in subsequent reports, particularly to the data for the most recent month. The current Employment Situation report can be found here.